San Francisco murder suspect sparks immigration debate

Byby Vic Lee and Sergio Quintana via KGO logo
Monday, July 6, 2015
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A man who was deported five times, has felony arrests in four states, and is now charged with murder in the shooting death of a San Francisco woman has set off a nationwide debate over immigration and the city's sanctuary city policies.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The San Francisco District Attorney's Office has charged a man with murder in the fatal shooting of a woman at Pier 14. Authorities say 45-year-old Francisco Sanchez will be arraigned Tuesday in the death of 32-year-old Kate Steinle.

Police handed the case over to the DA's office early Monday afternoon. A source close to the investigation tells ABC7 News that they've amassed a lot of evidence and they have the admission by Sanchez that he shot Steinle.

Police saw ABC7 News' jailhouse interview in which he said the shooting was an accident and quickly tried to resolve some inconsistencies in his story. Officers made one last visit to Pier 14 after the interview aired. Investigators zeroed in on benches on the pedestrian pier, looking meticulously for evidence that would support his story that he found the gun at a bench.

Reporter: "Where did you get the gun?"

Sanchez: "In the ground. When the... when the... over there in the bench, um, um, I put my leg and I see the one T-shirt and then see over there something like that."

He claims a gun was wrapped in that T-shirt and that it went off when he picked it up.

"Then suddenly I heard that boom boom, three times," Sanchez said.

Sources with knowledge of the investigation tell ABC7 News that investigators don't believe his story.

EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Man accused in SF shooting admits to crime

Sanchez told them after he was arrested Thursday at Pier 40 near Townsend that he was shooting at sea lions when the gun discharged.

Police also don't believe he found the gun at a bench or that there were three shots as Sanchez said in the jailhouse interview. Witnesses told police after the shooting that they heard only one shot.

As ABC7 News reported Friday, Sanchez did admit in the interview that he shot Kate Steinle.

He claims he kicked the gun into the bay immediately after the shooting and walked off. But there may be security video showing him actually tossing the murder weapon into the waters. A police source tells ABC7 News the gun was a semi-automatic handgun.

Sanchez has set off a national debate over immigration. He has been deported back to Mexico five times and has felony arrests in four states. He says he felt safe here, which is calling into question some of San Francisco's sanctuary city policies.

On Monday there were prayers for Steinle at the spot where she was killed last week. And the priest who led the vigil says he's concerned about the conversation it's sparked about immigration laws.

"I hope the focus is on the soul of Kathy -- which like I said truly believe lives on today -- and her family, and to not turn this into a political issue," said Father Cameron Fallder with the Archdiocese of San Francisco Restorative Justice Ministry.

Sanchez, a repeat drug offender, was released from jail on April 15 in San Francisco. Federal immigration authorities had filed a so-called detainer with local authorities, asking to be informed if they intended to release Sanchez. However, Mayor Ed Lee signed the Due Process for All ordinance in 2013, which bars the city from recognizing immigration detainers issued by ICE.

"And a detainer is not a legal instrument. It is a request. It has no legal foundation at all," said Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi.

Mirkarimi says there are some exceptions for violent felons, but Sanchez was held on a drug charge and the case was dropped by the District Attorney's Office so he was released.

The author of the ordinance, Supervisor John Avalos, says it's supposed to protect vulnerable immigrant communities.

"We want to be able to protect witnesses to call the police and not fear deportation," he said.

Critics of this ordinance and other sanctuary city strategies say Sanchez is a glaring example of how these policies can be dangerous.

"There's not one undocumented alien who's in favor of this policy where you release criminals onto the streets because they're the ones who are likely to be victims more than anyone else," said immigration attorney Leo Lacayo.

This has revived immigration as a key political issue.

Mirkarimi is up for reelection. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has latched onto this, calling for stricter immigration controls. And California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who is running for U.S. Senate, says people should be thinking of justice for Steinle's family instead of letting Sanchez's actions steer immigration policy.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee on Monday tried to clarify the city's sanctuary laws in a statement: "Let me be clear: San Francisco's Sancturary City Policy protects residents regardless of immigration status and is not intended to protect repeat, serious and violent felons."

On Monday, Republicans blamed President Barack Obama for blocking a bipartisan immigration bill that would have boosted funding for border protection.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest defended the decision on Monday.

"I recognize that people want to play politics with this," he said. "But if you take a simple look at the facts, the fact is the president has done everything within his power to make sure that we're focusing our law enforcement resources on criminals and those who pose a threat to public safety."

According to Earnest, last fall the president instructed Homeland Security to prioritize the deportation of undocumented immigrants who are public safety threats. Republicans want the White House to get tougher on illegal immigration.

"This administration is not enforcing our immigration laws," said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte. "And quite frankly, I don't think they care. And this tragedy in San Francisco is the product of that lack of caring about respect for the rule of law and enforcing our laws."

As the immigration battle wages on locally and nationally, San Francisco police are trying to solve the very strange and tragic shooting.

Steinle's family has set up an online fundraising page to raise money for funeral costs and to collect donations for charities that were important to her. Click here for more information.

Click here for full coverage on the Pier 14 shooting.

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